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Which Watch? How to Find Your Next Sports Watch

by Katherine A. Roccasecca

PrintDo you find yourself asking, "Which watch should I get?" … Poll your friends, tri club, or running group for the best watch—you'll get at least twenty different answers, and it will only tell you which watch is right for them. We will help you find which watch is the best sports watch for you.

First you need to imagine yourself using the watch. What do you plan to use it for? What might you also want to use it for?

Which watch is best?

What Is Your Primary Use?

Are you looking for a watch to record data on your running/swimming/biking workouts? Or are you looking for an activity tracker to count your steps, monitor your sleep, and remind you when to move? Perhaps you just want to monitor your heart rate while working out.

Most of the sports/training watches have activity tracking built-in, and many activity trackers have some ability to record your workouts. However, if you get a watch designed for your primary purpose, you will be more satisfied.

Activity Tracking

Activity trackers count your steps and remind you when to move. Some track more details and some even have a few features for recording workouts. Garmin's activity trackers begin with the prefix vívo.

  • vívofit trackers are Garmin's most basic activity trackers.
  • vívosmart trackers have connected features when paired with your smartphone.
  • vívoactive smart watches include apps designed to record different workouts.
  • vívomove watches are designed not to look like activity trackers. Their key features are their analog face and attractive bands.

The letters HR in a model name indicates that watch measures your heart rate at your wrist.

Shop Activity Trackers Now

Just Heart Rate

If you aren't looking to record anything and just want to begin training with heart rate, then a simple heart rate monitor may be right for you. These display your heat rate as long as you have the heart rate strap on, and they include a stopwatch. Shop Heart Rate Monitors Now

Sports Training

Sports watches record data such as speed/pace, distance, heart rate, cadence, and power while you workout and store it for you to review later. To chose the best watch, you need to decide "Which Sports Are You Training For?"

Which Sports Are You Training For?

Different watches have feature sets specifically designed for certain sports. A watch designed for swimming might count laps. A running watch might have an accelerometer or use a foot pod to measure distance when you run indoors. You might use a watch when you are cycling and want to pair it with your speed/cadence sensor or power meter.

Primarily Running

The Garmin Forerunner series is designed for runners. Of course a Foreunner watch can be worn during cardio class at the gym or while hiking, biking, standup paddle boarding, you name it. However, (with the exception of the XT models, discussed under "Multisport Mode," below) they have no, or only very few, features specifically for those other sports.

  • The Forerunner watches with two-digit model numbers have the most basic features. They are perfect for beginner runners, high school students, or anyone who simply isn't interested in having all the bells and whistles.
  • The Forerunner watches in the 200-series have coaching features designed to help you improve your training. These include recovery advisor, VO2 max estimate, and race predictor. (In addition you can pair them with speed and cadence sensors on your bike, but not a power meter.)
  • The Forerunner watches in the 600-series have the coaching features of the 200-series and can use the running dynamics data from Garmin's HRM-Run monitor to help you improve your running stride. (In addition you can pair them with speed and cadence sensors on your bike, but not a power meter.)

All these watches work with ANT+ heart rate straps. If you would like a watch that can measure your heart rate at your wrist, get one of the models that ends in the number 35.

Shop Running Watches Now

Just Swimming

If you are only looking to record your swim workouts, you could get any watch that records swimming (Look at "Lots of Sports," below) or get a swim-only watch. Shop Swim Watches Now

Lot of Sports

Can one watch do it all? Possibly. Read on to decide, "Do You Need Multisport Mode?"

Do You Need Multisport Mode?

If you want to use your watch during a triathlon, duathlon, adventure race, or any other multisport event, you will probably want multisport mode. This allows you to switch from swim to bike to run at the push of a button during your race. Otherwise you would need to end one activity, change activity modes, and start a new activity. Multisport mode will save a lot of time in transition.

Multisport Mode

For the triathlete, Garmin has Forerunner models that end in the letters XT. All of these have multisport mode. The current models have a complete set of swim features, both run coaching and run dynamics features, and advanced cycling features including being able to pair with a power meter.

For the active outdoorsy type, Garmin has created the fēnix line. These watches combine the features of the Forerunner XT watches with the classic ABC outdoor navigation tools and features designed to appeal to hikers, trail runners, and ski/snowboarders.

Shop Multisport Watches Now

One Sport at a Time

If you don't need the multisport mode, you can still get a watch that has it, but you can also look at some other watches. The Garmin vívoactive is an activity tracker, but it has apps for quite a few sports including running, swimming, and cycling. Buy vívoactive Now



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Katherine is our Content Champion. She has done triathlons in the past, and now focuses on mountain biking and long-distance gravel riding. She still has a soft spot in her heart for weird multi-sport events like indoor triathlon and aquabike. She also teaches indoor cycling.

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